for National Geographic News
The Mountains of the Moon are melting.
The iconic glaciers of the Ruwenzori Mountains, which cast a thick and icy mist more than 16,000 feet (4,900 meters) above the Equator in central Africa, have shrunk by 50 percent over the past 50 years, says the conservation group WWF.
Photographs taken by members of a WWF expedition to the Ruwenzoris last month show a massive reduction in glacier size when compared with similar images from the 1950s, probably from increased temperatures or decreased humidity.
One glacier, long noted on maps of the range, "simply doesn't exist anymore," said Marc Languy, who led the ten-day expedition.
"We never set foot on a glacier in that part of the trek," he said.
Leopards in the Lurch
The mountain range's glaciers are the highest water source for the Nile River. But the disappearance of this ice threatens dozens of plant and animal species that call the range home.
Leopards, chimpanzees, and other unique wildlife have adapted over thousands of years to the Ruwenzoris' unique conditions—the mountains rise through six separate "microclimates," climbing from forest to heather to icepack.
It is a span in which "elephants wander at 5,000 feet [1,500 meters], lions prowl near 8,000 [2,400 meters], and the leopard is found at 15,000 feet [4,600 meters]," the historian Robert Collins wrote. Living nearby are the endangered mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park.
"We don't know if they will adapt fast enough to the changes we are seeing today," Languy said.
It's a further sign of the great impact that global climate change will have in Africa, according to WWF. (Related: "Global Warming Causing African Floods, Experts Say" [October 29, 2007].)
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